ALBUQUERQUE — A powerful storm dumped heavy snow across sections of the Southwest and Great Plains yesterday, stranding motorists in New Mexico in whiteout conditions and causing havoc on holiday travel just two days before the start of winter.
Blizzard warnings forecasting snowfalls of up to 18 inches stretched across the region as the storm barreled through New Mexico toward the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and parts of Kansas and Colorado. In southern Colorado, blizzard conditions were expected to drop between 8 and 16 inches of snow.
In northern New Mexico, all roads from Raton to the Texas and Oklahoma borders about 90 miles east were closed, and an unknown number of motorists were stuck along rural highways, Clayton police dispatcher Cindy Blackwell said.
A portion of Interstate 25, the major route heading northeast of Santa Fe into Colorado, was among the roads closed, and even where highways remained open, some drivers were forced to pull off.
Snow and strong winds also created blizzard-like conditions in far western Kansas and the Oklahoma Panhandle as the storm moved east.
Vicki Roberts, the owner of the Black Mesa Bed and Breakfast in Kenton, said snow was falling rapidly and high winds had cut visibility in the Panhandle.
“I can’t even see the mesa,’’ Roberts said as she peered from the window of her establishment at the foot of Black Mesa, which at 4,973 feet is the highest point in Oklahoma. Forecasts called for the area to get up to 16 inches before the storm moves out today.
The storm follows a surprisingly mild Sunday across the region. In the Oklahoma Panhandle, residents enjoyed relatively balmy 60-degree temperatures. That changed quickly, and Roberts said yesterday morning that she expected to be stuck inside at least through Wednesday if the blizzard was as bad as forecast.
Kansas still had temperatures in the upper 40s yesterday, and thunderstorms moved across the state. Conditions were expected to deteriorate as the day progressed and temperatures fell. Snow was expected to start in the western part of the state overnight.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation said yesterday that crews would work around the clock to keep roads clear, and that they have about 130,000 tons of a salt and sand mixture at their disposal.
The precipitation could also help ease a drought that has plagued Texas for more than year.